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‘Cowboy Bebop’ Is A Rollercoaster Ride That You’ll Either Enjoy Or Want To End – Review

Cowboy Bebop is back and in live-action! As another anime property within Netflix’s plan to create several live-action shows, audiences will take a ride into the cosmos, space cowboy style.

Speaking of, the gang (most of them) is back. John Cho plays our resident hit-man turned bounty hunter Spike Spiegel, with Mustafa Shakir and Daniella Pineda rounding out the Bebop crew as Jet Black and Faye Valentine respectively. 

Alex Hassell as Vicious and John Cho as Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bepop (Courtesy of Geoffrey Short/Netflix)

Live-action adaptations of anime tend to be, well, subpar and that’s putting it mildly. As Netflix curates different anime properties, Cowboy Bebop leads the live-action resurgence. Many will find nostalgia within the jazz-influenced soundtrack, especially within the intro sequence, but with many things that are done right, there are still many pain points to deal with. 

The Cowboy Bebop anime consisted of one season and the 10 episodes that Netflix released only cover a fraction of what the original contained. Through these episodes, we get access to slightly altered versions of Spike, Jet, and Faye’s stories, as they navigate being bounty hunters beyond the stars. Cowboy Bebop continues to incorporate elements of its original neo-noir and western roots but also lumps in the influences of camp and ’70s North American and Asian cinema. 

This version of Cowboy Bebop balances the more popular parts of the anime while leaving behind much of the dystopia and darkness within the anime. However, notable elements from the anime make their appearances, like everyone’s favourite corgi, Ein, battles with eco-terrorists and a killer clown, and outrageous interstellar adventures. Additionally, Spike’s love interest, Julia, and his former partner in crime, Vicious, return with beefed-up roles in this adaptation.

Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop (Courtesy of Geoffrey Short/Netflix)

Other familiar faces include Shin, Lin, Ana, and Gren–whose rewriting as a non-binary character portrayed by non-binary actor Mason Alexander Park opens doors for more non-binary talent to appear on-screen. In addition to these familiar faces, new characters appear to update the stories of the main three, Spike, Jet, and Faye. What’s also updated is the treatment of women within this live-action adaptation. 

Faye highlights this the most, with her being holistically portrayed by witty and charming standout Pineda. Perhaps this will make plenty of angry trolls just as upset when it was revealed that Faye’s costume would be altered to be more “realistic” to what an adventurer would wear–because, you know, misogyny and sexism. However, Faye is not the only one who has been changed. Julia and Ana, receive expanded roles as well, existing outside of the men they were continuously tied to in the anime. 

Additionally, rewriting to ensure that Spike, Jet, and Faye are characters of color is a plus. This is a huge deviation from what most live-action anime adaptations do – which is to whitewash the majority of the cast. It is a highlight to see a diverse cast of major and minor characters.

John Cho as Spike Spiegel, Mustafa Shakir as Jet Black, Daniella Pineda as Faye Valentine and Ein in Cowboy Bebop (Courtesy of Geoffrey Short/Netflix)

On the topic of costumes, it’s not Faye’s that should be up for critique. While many of the costumes will bring viewers back to the future (which is not so distant as Cowboy Bebop is set in 2071), some of them will take you out of the moment entirely. Unfortunately, the attention goes to Jet’s mismatched facial hair and Vicious’ wig, which is just as chaotic as the new character’s personality. 

Speaking of chaos, the series struggles to walk the fine lines between wacky and creative with CGI and setting, tacky and stylish with its costume design, and poetic and trite with its dialogue. This is made known within the first few episodes that are imbued with too much frenetic energy. The second half mellows out leaning more into the pensive elements of the anime. 

Yet, this isn’t the anime and that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. The more hopeful, comedic tone and storyline alterations make this adaptation a standout from its anime predecessor. Cowboy Bebop is wedged within this polarizing battle that leaves fans and newcomers either hating it or finding themselves surprisingly loving it. 

Maybe the next season will leave the shallow antics behind and dive into the deeper themes that made the anime so popular. For a Netflix live-action anime adaptation, it’s not a bad start. Still, it has a ways to go to relinquish itself from the trenches of bad live-action anime adaptations of the past.  

Rating: 5/10

Cowboy Bebop begins streaming on Netflix starting November 19

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